Tourists flock to Japan’s new UNESCO heritage sites; access is improving

Kyodo

Tourists flocked to see the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” across eight prefectures on Saturday, following their addition to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list on Wednesday.

Local authorities and business communities hosting the 23 sites are preparing for an increased number of visitors. Some changes have already taken place, and they are now preparing to improve access and deploy additional guides.

The city of Nagasaki set up an information center in front of JR Nagasaki Station in April. The city has several sites on the list, including the Hashima Coal Mine, known as “Battleship Island” because of its outline from the ocean.

Three women serve at the information center, providing information in Japanese, English and Korean.

“I’ve checked information on the Internet. But it was good we were able to hear information directly from the staff,” said one visitor to the center Saturday, 55-year-old Tomohisa Suzuki, a civil servant from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Arao, Kumamoto Prefecture, is home to the Manda Pit of the Miike Coal Mine. Twelve staff are taking tour guide lessons provided by the Arao municipal government and plan to begin working as guides from September.

A visitor to the pit, Shomi Yamamoto, a 27-year-old company employee from Kumamoto Prefecture, said, “I feel the history. I hope it will help promote local tourism.”

Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, is home to five sites including the Hagi reverberatory furnace. The Hagi Municipal Government has printed a booklet showing suggested routes to tour them.

The ruined Hashino Blast Furnace in the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, is far from the nearest railway station. The Kamaishi Municipal Government has increased parking spaces and launched guided bus tours linking JR Kamaishi Station and the site.

The remains of the Mietsu naval shipyard and training center from the Edo Period in the city of Saga are currently buried and visitors cannot see them. The Saga prefectural and city governments has installed binocular-type devices at the site.

Looking through them, visitors are treated to images of steamboats, artillery training and other historical scenes to get a feel for how it would have looked.

“I feel as if I were in the late Edo Period,” said user Shoji Fujimoto, a 62-year-old company employee from Fukuoka.

The city of Kagoshima has three sites, but they are fairly spread apart. A nonprofit organization hosted a lecture in June telling taxi drivers how to tour the sites effectively.

There are restrictions in seeing the Yawata Steel Works in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, because the formerly state-run facility now belongs to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and is still operating.

On Monday, Nippon Steel started allowing visitors to take photos of the exterior of the former head office, built in 1899.

The city of Izunokuni, Shizuoka Prefecture, will run a free shuttle bus linking a railway station and the Nirayama reverberatory furnace every day from July 25 to Aug. 31.

The “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining” were added to the list after South Korea withdrew its opposition on condition Japan publicly acknowledge that Koreans had been coerced to work at some of the sites during World War II.